It's no secret that my life is erratic. I start jobs, then quit after a few weeks. I write plays, and some of them get staged while others remain untouched. I could be in California on Monday and Holland on Thursday. And nothing is ever routine, easy, or predictable.
Not knowing what will come next evokes a smile from some, a cringe from others. I know that when certain people tell me they admire my lifestyle, they're really saying, "Fool, get it together before you turn 40." Others are more direct. "Don't you want to live on your own, get a stable job, settle down, have children?"
Well, sure I do. I think. Okay, who knows? It's not the worst thing to be single, poor, unemployed and childless...as long as you're happy, right?
And I'm happy. Most of the time. But is anyone really happy all the time? I'll bet even Mary Poppins would pop a Xanax if given the chance. Maybe that's she even got her name.
Sometimes, you just have to force happiness. And I've found the best way to do that is by striving for the little victories. This week, I had many:
Helped Mom enjoy Mother's Day
Scored Book of Mormon tickets for next month
Got a press release for my next show, Acts of Love, posted on BroadwayWorld
Had a really great job interview
Got involved with an exciting new writing program for cancer patients and survivors
Big deal, right? But to those who ask me, "how do you handle a life that's not predictable?" I say, "what have you done that's not?" And I'll smile, telling myself that I've just earned another little victory.
Very few playwrights make a ton of money mounting their plays. Often, we're lucky if we don't lose money. So, we take stupid day jobs to make ends meet. I've had more than my share: pharmacy clerk, door-to-door salesman and, the most recent, a sales associate at Banana Republic.
This wasn't my first time working in retail. Ten years ago, I sold children's shoes at Nordstrom. The experience was so awful (imagine having to shove a little shoe on a big, fat foot while a rich parent belittles their child for eating too much, this would happen every day) that I vowed to never work retail again. But, I lied to myself, like I often do. (Hey, you won't gain any weight for eating that ice cream. Sure, you can have that fourth shot of vodka and still be able to walk home.) Because I'm terrified of having zero money for just about anything.
I lasted less than 30 days at the Republic, which was run more like a dictatorship. Old businesswomen yelled at me for not ringing them up fast enough, while young managers scolded me for not folding sweaters properly.
There were meetings on standards and practices every week, and I was "on call."
"On call? For what, a cardigan arrest?" I once asked a manager, and then the crickets chirped. And for all of my effort, I was paid an astounding $8.50 an hour.
So, I started to think this job was beneath me. That made me feel like kind of a snob, but the more I thought about it...I didn't go to NYU to get yelled at for not folding fucking jeans the right way, this "job" was standing in the way of attending rehearsals for my upcoming play Acts of Love and, in order to deal with this torture, I was taking a Xanax before work--so in the long run, I was spending more money than I was earning. So, last week, I went home, ripped off my khakis, and called the store to nicely inform them I wouldn't be coming back.
"Yeah, this job sucks. But thanks for the opportunity."
The real question is: what the hell was I thinking trying to work there? My friend, Tiffany, over drinks last night, put it best, "Markie: A. You're colorblind. B. You don't like people." Both valid points, and reason enough to think I'll find something better.
For the time being, however, I'm back to being unemployed and terrified about money. On the flip side, I do have plenty to write about.
Like most of my friends, this recession (or is it a depression?) has done a number on me. Number as in 0, the amount of dollars I currently make. So, I make adjustments. Moving out of New York City. Eating hamburger instead of steak. Drinking wine from a box instead of a bottle.
One area that I refused to make compromises in was travel. After all, why sit still when you don't have a stupid job holding you back? But, after a few trips to Europe and across America, I'm pretty much broke. So, I have to say bon voyage to travel plans for a while, which is a really really big sacrifice.
Yes, the easy solution would be to a get a job, sell my book, make it big with a play. And I'm trying. But until that day comes, if I can't go visit any far off places anytime soon, I'm going to revisit them here.
So, starting in no particular order, let's go to Las Vegas, Nevada. And yes, I'm breaking the rule of "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas" because I'm not a frat boy nor did I go there for a bachelor party. Actually, the first time I was supposed to go to Vegas it was for a bachelorette party in the winter of 2005, and I was the token male tagalong. We never made it there, due to complications with flights, etc., and ended up spending a weekend in Philadelphia, instead. Oh, well. At least I got a cheesesteak (minus the cheese) out of the deal.
In November of the same year, I tried my luck with Vegas again, this time joining my friends, Diandra and Vinai. I liked the city okay, I thought it was pretty tame as compared to what I've seen in the movies. Then again, I didn't visit with any hookers or snort any coke. And my skin got really dry. But, aside from that, I loved the tackiness of all the hotels, and my favorites were the Luxor, Venice, and the Bellagio (especially the fountain--how can a person not get a little choked up while watching water dance to Andrea Bocelli's Time to Say Goodbye? Yep, that was me. Until a homeless lady burped in my face.
The worst casino was The Flamingo because:
1) It was filled with birds, and I didn't like they eyed me.
2) That's where I lost my camera.
It must have fallen off my shoulder while I was running for a free shot. And when I realized what had happened, I was far from calm about it. So, I flagged down a security guard, who wasn't much help at first. "Sir, if a black woman stole your camera, there's not much we can do about it. She's probably out on the strip trying to hock it for drug money," he told me. I had to stop and scratch my head for a second. I never said someone stole my camera, nor did I mention anything about a black woman. I was ready to give up, but the racist security guard agreed to take me to the lost and found and--miracle of miracles-someone had turned in my camera! What are the odds?
Other than this moment, I din't gamble much, but I found myself addicted to the penny slots, especially the ones modeled after famous gameshows from the 70's, like The Match Game. When Charles Nelson Riley announced that I'd hit the jackpot, I nearly died with joy. Even though the jackpot was a mere $34.78, I was happy to be a winner.
We didn't see any of the shows, but we did go and visit Old Town, and that was really fun, especially hanging with the geriatric showgirls. And the buffets were ridiculous, but my favorite dining experience was Sunday morning at Denny's. It had to be the most hopping I've ever seen a Denny's, and people had actually come from church, dressed to the nines in their Sunday best, even. I had to ask someone. "They really have churches in Vegas?" And the guy said, "Yeah, people be begging the Lord to let them win all the time. And you know what, it get old."
"I imagine so," I replied. Because if there was a god, I'm sure he/she/it has better things to do than help people win at blackjack.
My last hours in Vegas were capped off by a visit to Hawk's Gym. I won't go so far as to tell you what happened once I got inside. But here's a hint: it wasn't actually a gym. And, JACKPOT!
Mark Jason Williams
I find trouble wherever I go